Dealing with Crazymaker Clients – Part 2

Posted by on Feb 13 2014

In Part 1 of this article, I gave you some ideas on how to spot a crazymaker client (or student, or business partner, or mastermind group member – whomever you have a close business relationship with).

Now that you’ve got a list of how to spot them, you might be able to avoid getting into a business relationship with a potential crazymaker client. Sometimes you don’t know you’ve got a crazymaker client until you’re already working with them because they’re good at hiding their crazymaking traits until they’ve won your trust.

I think it’s time to bring in the pros, so I interviewed Wendy Pitts Reeves, a psychotherapist from Maryville, TN about how to deal with crazymakers. She’s been a mental health professional since 1981, and she’s a small business owner. If anyone knows how to deal with the difficult people in your business life, Wendy does.

Your own happiness and the health of your business must be your first priority.

When someone’s repeated behavior causes you concern, you have a right to protect yourself. Remember, you’re looking for patterns of behavior and how that client makes you feel.

Having someone act badly once may be a coincidence or a bad day; when they do it a second and third time, you’ve spotted a crazymaker and you need to handle it.

The Three Basic Steps

  • First, admit to yourself that this is an unhealthy business relationship. Trust your gut when something doesn’t feel normal.
    Check out Part 1 of this article where I talk about some ways to spot a crazymaker client. Speak with your colleagues, mentor or mastermind group to double-check your feelings about the situation and get an outside perspective.
  • Second, give yourself permission to require boundaries in your business and be willing to enforce those boundaries as necessary.
  • Third, ask your client to change their behavior, but don’t expect it to happen. They’ve gotten along for many years with this type of behavior and they’re unlikely to change just because you ask them to. If the relationship is worth saving, it’s worth asking for change.

18 Ways to Deal with Crazymaker Clients

There’s an old saying, “Rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.” Remember that the reward that crazymakers are seeking is a sense of control and power, typically by creating a negative atmosphere and/or making you doubt yourself. If you allow this to happen, you are rewarding this toxic behavior and it will continue.

  1. Put everything in writing. Get them to sign-off on any major decisions, project plans, designs, and task priorities in writing. Wendy Pitts Reeves says, “Set boundaries about what you expect, in writing, and then they can choose to comply or not. Be clear about your policies, procedures, fees, cancellation policies, schedule, and availability.”
  2. Constantly push back to the agreed-upon boundaries. Don’t let them keep bending the rules. Learn to say no. Don’t say yes, just to avoid conflict. Here are several ways to learn how to say no.
  3. Tell them when something is outside the scope of the original project or agreement, and that it will cost them extra (or that you can’t do it).
  4. Set and manage expectations. Tell them what’s going to happen next and how long it will take. If they want to accomplish something in 4 weeks that you know takes 6 months to accomplish, say so.
  5. Remind them what will happen if they break the contract.
  6. Talk to them about their behavior and ask them to change it.
  7. Get them to pay up-front, or in deposits before you do more work for them.
  8. Educate them on the process you use, on unfamiliar vocabulary, on anything that might hinder communication.
  9. Be clear about deadlines, especially when they owe you information or a decision, or they have to take a certain action by a specific date.
  10. Put your fees, price list, and any other financial information in writing, preferably in a contract. Have them sign the contract.
  11. Limit communication to scheduled appointments; don’t answer emails just because your Inbox indicator flashes. If you’ve told them you don’t work evenings and weekend, never answer emails or phone calls from them on evenings or weekends.
  12. If you don’t have it already, get Caller ID on your phone, so you can tell when it’s the crazymaker calling. Let voicemail pick it up.
  13. If you will be out of the office for a day or longer, email them in advance of when you’ll be away and when you will return.
  14. If they twist what was said verbally in a phone call, use email to communicate. At minimum, follow up all phone calls with an email “summary” of key points. Keep all emails, even after the project is over.
  15. Don’t let their crisis become your crisis. If you’ve stated that you are not available for immediate tasks, don’t do an “emergency” task just to please the client; they’ll come to expect this type of behavior from you again and again. If it’s a true emergency and you agree to help them, explain to them what your additional fee is.
  16. Keep asking them what THEY are going to do to resolve the problem. Don’t try to fix everything for them. Help them to create action plans and to implement them. (This is especially true in mastermind groups.)
  17. Ask them what outcomes they want. Make them come up with concrete goals.
  18. If the client doesn’t comply with the rules, if their attitude and behavior is causing problems and they’re not willing to change, let them go. Walk away from the business relationship. It is not worth hanging on to a client who is harming you and your business.

Don’t Get Defensive

Don’t get into an argument with a crazymaker or spend extraordinary amounts of time and energy defending yourself. They seek power, and when you become defensive, you have given them that power. Instead, listen to them, repeat back to them what you’re hearing, but don’t fall into their trap. Do not play their game.

Wendy says, “Stay neutral. Thank them for sharing their comments and thoughts, but don’t get into an argument with them about what’s right or wrong.” Say something like, “It’s interesting that you heard me say X when I really said Y, and I’m a little curious about that,” or ” I notice this certain behavior keeps happening and I’m curious about why you keep doing that.” Not judgmental or critical, just putting it out there. Then pay attention to their reaction. If they’re defensive, you’re not likely to get anywhere; if they’re open and interested, the relationship might be worth saving.

Happier You

A great final tip from Wendy Pitts Reeves: “Seek consultation. Talk to colleagues and friends, your coach or mastermind group, to think out loud about this problem. Someone who has a little distance, someone whose advice you trust and respect. State the facts, state how it makes you feel (you’re already emotionally involved and you can’t see clearly). They can help you be objective and get clarity about blind spots, and can brainstorm about what to do in each situation. Many small business owners work alone and having a group of people who you can connect with around things like this is essential.”

No one wants to think that this will happen to them, yet many, many people emailed me or posted blog comments after Part 1 of this article to say that this had, indeed, happened to them. Keeping your eyes open to people’s behavior and being willing to deal with problems when they arise will make your business a much happier place.

Did you find this blog post helpful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And if YOU have any suggested ways to deal with crazymakers, I’m all ears!


16 comments for now

16 Responses to “Dealing with Crazymaker Clients – Part 2”

  1. […] In Part 2 of this blog post, I’ll give you some tips on how to deal with the crazymaker clients in your business life. […]

    13 Feb 2012 at 11:22 am

  2. Brett Somers

    Great list, very helpful. Makes me feel like I’m back in control. Thank you.

    13 Feb 2012 at 12:10 pm

  3. suzanne

    I could have used these tips 2 weeks ago when I had to deal with a new client who kept asking for more and more work (but didn’t want to pay for the extra time). Being firm with her didn’t help. She just didn’t get it. I had to “fire” her just to get some peace.


    13 Feb 2012 at 12:13 pm

  4. Karyn Greenstreet

    Suz, I had the same thing happen to me when I was a website designer. “Scope creep” can double the size of a project easily if we don’t stay on top of it.

    14 Feb 2012 at 9:21 am

  5. Excellent article, awesome advice Karyn! Crazymakers seem to be on the rise these days.

    As a recovering attractor of dark triads in my business relationships, it took me some time to figure out why I was attracting these people into my life.

    For me working with crazymakers was a gift — the kick in the pants I needed to start my own business and delve into how I best operate and succeed in my work so I could create an environment for me to thrive. I learned to lead with my heart and what I intuitively know is best instead of being caught up in the mind games that crazymakers tend to capitalize on.

    In the end, the dark triads were my greatest teachers – they were the catalyst I needed to get clear on what I really wanted and go for it!

    14 Feb 2012 at 8:58 am

  6. Karyn Greenstreet

    That’s a great way of reframing it, Lisa. The crazymakers in my life taught me how to set (and keep!) healthy boundaries, and to trust my own gut instinct. You know how sometimes you feel like something isn’t “quite right” but you keep deflecting it and making excuses for it? Through spotting and dealing with crazymakers, I don’t do that anymore. Also I found that talking with my mastermind group really helped me to see that I was on-target and that the crazymaker’s words and behaviors weren’t normal or healthy.

    14 Feb 2012 at 9:09 am

  7. In the last 18 years of coaching I have been very lucky – I have only had 4 people who didn’t pay in full.

    All of these agreed to pay a downpayment of half the cost. I felt safe and gave the training. A few weeks after the training – there I was asking for part two. Silence. When I then exposed them on the net (after various unanswered emails and texts) they complained that the work was only worth half the money and that they had been disappointed on the training days. Er, hello??? Why hadn’t they said that at the time? What about the hundreds of other customers who were very happy with the work??
    I now know how to spot them. “How much will it cost? I don’t have that much at the moment, but I really love your work. Can we sort out a payment plan?” RED FLAG. Nail them to a contract with at least 50% up front – and know that 50% is probably all you will get.

    14 Feb 2012 at 9:54 am

  8. Karyn Greenstreet

    I don’t have a problem with offering payment plans, but only if it’s automatically deducted from a credit card and they’ve signed an agreement to make the payments. At least then you have recourse with the bank if they should refuse to pay. And you’re right, Fergus, if they were unhappy with your work, they should have said so immediately, and you could have made an offer to remediate the situation.

    14 Feb 2012 at 10:00 am

  9. Thank you SO much for this article. I have been dealing with someone like this for a couple weeks now. They started out by saying they want to make an extravagant purchase from the company to get our attention. Then she began to complain, blame, attempt to shame, demean and make veiled threats about the lack of attention and need for further (unreasonable) information. And this person isn’t even a client (yet!)… If I have anything to say about it, they won’t be. Can you imagine?!

    All I see is attempts to control and manipulate. Sorry – not on my watch!

    Here is an interesting strategy from a colleague. Delay your response to them deliberately to see how they respond. If they become a crazymaker, then don’t contract to work with them. Nice and neat with no liability.

    Is it worth the risk? Some money just isn’t worth it.

    14 Feb 2012 at 2:37 pm

  10. Karyn Greenstreet

    Sounds like you got an “I love you but” crazymaker, Rhonda. They need to feel control. And what better way to control their world than by controlling and manipulating the people within it?

    They thrive on chaos and if they can manipulate how you feel about yourself and others, they feed off that energy. If they can take a self-confident person and deflate you, it makes them feel powerful. If they can push your “The Client Is Always Right” button and get you to jump through hoops, it feeds their own sense of power and control.

    14 Feb 2012 at 3:08 pm

  11. Thanks for the post Karen;

    I identify these clients as soon as possible and just don’t do business with them. They don’t change and there is to much business out there to be spending time with them. If I were a therapist I would look for them, but I’m not. I look for people who have a strong desire to succeed in business. Those individuals are usually solution based, not problem based. Thanks! Joe

    14 Feb 2012 at 5:39 pm

  12. Karyn Greenstreet

    Agreed, Joe, it’s so much better to spot them and get rid of them as early as possible.

    15 Feb 2012 at 12:20 am

  13. Hey Karyn,

    Great job with a complicated subject.

    As coaches, consultants, psychotherapists or other service professionals, we all have an obligation to do our best to provide a setting where our clients can be the most successful.

    Sometimes, that means working with us.

    Sometimes, that means we need to release and re-direct them to others who will better suit their needs (and ours).

    But it always, ALWAYS means providing a structure that supports the work. And we can’t do that without clear expectations up front, and healthy boundaries throughout.

    If you don’t learn how to do that, you won’t be doing your clients much good, and you won’t last in this profession.

    Lord knows I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years. Thank heavens my clients have been patient as I’ve learned how to serve them better – by taking better care of myself at the same time.

    ~Wendy Pitts Reeves
    Secret Adventures for Courageous Women

    15 Feb 2012 at 11:39 pm

  14. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thank YOU, Wendy, for agreeing to be interviewed by me for this blog post and providing such great ideas about how to deal with difficult clients.

    16 Feb 2012 at 9:39 am

  15. […] clients, read Karen Greenstreet’s very good blog post on the subject here: Cancel […]

    16 Feb 2012 at 3:30 am

  16. […] Dealing with Crazymaker Clients – 18 Ways to Deal with Them (Part 2) […]

    09 Jul 2014 at 7:31 am

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